Six years ago, 5-year-old Austin Haley was fishing with his grandfather at a family pond in Noble, Oklahoma. Nearby, a neighbor called police for assistance with a snake in a birdhouse. Noble police officer Paul Rogers and his supervisor Robert Richardson were unsuccessful at getting the snake out of the tree, and Rogers asked Richardson for permission to shoot it down.
Richardson approved the request, and Rogers fired two shots. One of those shots traveled to the Haley property, striking Austin in the head and killing him. Austin's grandfather says that after the first shot, he screamed that there were people and to stop shooting. Seconds later, his grandson was shot.
A police affidavit says that Rogers and Richardson asked the neighbor if there was anything in the wooded area where the pond was located, but they were told there was not. Regardless of intent, a little boy was dead. District Attorney Greg Mashburn said that the officers showed "culpable negligence," and they were charged with second degree manslaughter. Here is a more detailed explanation of the differences between manslaughter and murder.
Richardson was given a five year deferred sentence; Rogers a two and a half year deferred sentence. Now, Rogers has completed his sentence and had his record expunged. Richardson is also petitioning for expungement. A Section 991(c) expungement is the most common type of expungement in Oklahoma, allowing a person's court record to be sealed after he or she successfully completes the probationary terms of a deferred sentence. Upon completion of the sentence, a defendant's court record is updated to reflect that the defendant pleaded "not guilty," and the case was dismissed.
The Haley family, already upset that neither Rogers nor Richardson served jail time following the death of their son, is angry that the former police officers are able to have their record expunged. They say that expungements are for minor, non-violent offenses--not manslaughter. However, state law does not stipulate which offenses are eligible for expungement following a deferred sentence. Rogers's attorney is quick to point out that, while the 991(c) record expungement provides some relief for his client, it does not sweep the offense under the rug. A 991(c) expungement, unlike a Section 18/19 expungement, does not affect a person's arrest record on file with the OSBI. It only affects court records.
Also, because of the nature of the case, Rogers and Richardson have their names included in almost countless media reports. A Google search of "Noble boy shooting" returns 13,300,000 results--these include the names of the officers involved. The Haley family is concerned that Rogers and Richardson could once again be hired as police officers. Under the terms of their sentences, the men lost their CLEET certification, but they were given the right to re-apply after two years. However, it seems unlikely that law enforcement would be a career path either man would choose after this incident, or that they would have much luck finding a job as a peace officer despite expungement of the record, given the media attention to this case.
Not every criminal offense or conviction is eligible for expungement, and for those that do qualify, there are two different types of expungement. If you are burdened by a criminal record, contact an attorney to find out more about how to clear your record.